Studies were carried out to examine whether parathyroid hormone (PTH) will prevent the age-related bone loss that results from ovarian hormone deficiency and to explore the mechanism of its action. Ovariectomy caused a significant decrease in bone density in the distal metaphysis and mid-diaphysis, but not in the vertebra and proximal metaphysis. The decrease was prevented by PTH injection and in all the bones examined PTH administration increased bone density and bone calcium content above the levels in sham-operated controls. Similar findings were made in bone hydroxyproline levels. PTH treated ovariectomized animals had lower serum 25(OH)vitamin D and higher 1,25(OH)2 vitamin D levels than ovariectomized and sham operated animals that received solvent vehicle. Compared to the sham operated controls, ovariectomy caused a 4.5-fold increase in the number of tartrate resistant acid phosphatase (TRAP) positive multinuclear cells. This increase did not occur in PTH-treated animals. We conclude that PTH is effective in preventing ovarian hormone deficiency bone loss in rats. PTH may mediate this effect partly by stimulating osteoblastic bone formation and partly by increasing 1,25(OH)2 vitamin D-mediated calcium absorption. The data from TRAP positive multinuclear cells indicate that an etiologic component of ovarian hormone deficiency bone loss is the expansion of a pool of osteoclast progenitors and that the bone anabolic action of PTH involves, in part, a decrease in bone resorption as a result of the suppression of the proliferation of osteoclast progenitors.